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Spring Bicycle Maintenance: DIY Bike Check

Run through basic checkpoints, like gauging tire pressure and assessing brake pad wear and tear, before returning your wheels to the road this spring.

Itching to get back in the saddle this spring? Your first step should be making sure your bike is safe to take back on the road. If your wheels had an easy winter—you stored your bike in the basement instead of locking it up outside in the snow—you may be able to get away with an at-home bike check instead of dropping cash on a tune-up at the bike shop. (If your ride’s got bigger problems than a squishy tire or an ungreased chain, leave it to the pros.)

If your bike’s not in bad shape, roll up your sleeves. Zoe Cheswick, Fran Hays, and Jared Lauridsen from the Bike Education Department at Bike New York, one of the organizations behind New York City’s TD Five Boro Bike Tour, walked us through the basic bike maintenance checkpoints for tires, brakes, and chains.

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Basic Bike Maintenance Checkpoints

1. Tires

  • Look to see if tires are worn down or bald, meaning they have no treads left. Make sure the sides of your tires are not fraying, and that there are no slits or holes in them. Replace your tires if you see these problems.
  • Assess the air. Squeeze the tires; they should feel rock-hard. If they’re squishy, use a pump and a gauge to inflate tires to their recommended pressure (the number that you see next to “PSI” on the side of the tire).

2. Chain

  • Check the chain to see if it’s loose or sagging. If it is, hit the bike shop; you probably need a new chain and cassette.
  • Lubricate the chain once every 100 miles or every five to ten bike rides. How to do it: Clean the chain with a rag, and then apply a lube that contains Teflon. Don’t use WD-40—it’s not made for bikes.

3. Brakes

  • Brake Pads: Spin both wheels forward and make sure your tire rims don’t rub on the brake pads. Squeeze the brake levers and check that the brake pads make full contact with the rim. They shouldn’t touch the tire or dive into the spokes. When brake pads have less than a quarter-inch of rubber left, replace them.
  • Brake Levers: Squeeze each brake lever—there should be more than an inch of space between the brake lever and the handlebar when you squeeze. If your brake levers touch your grips, your brakes need to be tightened. When you release the levers, both sides of the brake should return equally. If one side of the brake rubs against the rim, your brakes need to be adjusted.

Want to dive deeper into at-home bike maintenance, meaning go beyond a top-to-bottom check and actually fix and replace things? See if your local bike shop offers classes, or check out online resources like YouTube videos. A good place to start: gathering the tools you’ll need to keep your ride in top shape:

  • Floor pump with pressure gauge
  • Tire levers
  • Bike lube (not WD-40)
  • Spare tube
  • Patch kit
  • Allen wrench (both 5 mm 6 mm)
  • Adjustable wrench
  • Rags

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